Navy jet crashes into Va. apartments, pilots eject

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) –
Two Navy pilots ejected from a fighter jet Friday, sending the unmanned
plane careening into a Virginia Beach apartment complex and tearing the
roof off at least one building that was engulfed in flames, officials
said.

Local officials reported
three injuries, including the pilot, but no deaths. The Navy said both
people on board the jet ejected before it crashed around noon and were
being taken to hospitals for observation.

Live video from WAVY-TV
showed dozens of police cars, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles
filling the densely populated neighborhood where the plane crashed.
Yellow fire hoses snaked through side streets as fire crews poured water
on the charred rooftops of brick apartment houses. Another fire crew
doused the plane's wreckage with streams of white foam to try and
contain any potential spill of jet fuel.

Four buildings had massive
damage, showing gaping holes with fire-blackened edges, while a few
yards away, rows of homes were largely untouched.

As authorities closed roads
in the neighborhood, traffic backed up on side streets and on nearby
Interstate 264, with slow-moving columns of vehicles bringing drivers to
a virtual standstill early Friday afternoon.

The crash happened in the
Hampton Roads area, which has a large concentration of military bases,
including Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval base in the world.
Naval Air Station Oceana, where the F/A-18D that crashed was assigned,
is located in Virginia Beach.

Edna Lukens, an apartment employee across the street from the crash, said she saw three apartment buildings on fire.

“We heard this loud noise
and we looked out the window and there was smoke all in the sky. Then
the flames started going up in the sky, and then the apartment building
just started burning and the police was called and everybody came out,”
Lukens said.

Lukens said a senior citizens' community was across the street, and people were trying to help them evacuate.

The Daily Press of
Portsmouth reported that Sean Pepe of Norfolk and Kenny Carver of
Hampton saw the jet as they were driving on Interstate 264. They said it
appeared to be “floating” in the air before it went down behind trees.

“It was odd, but we didn't
think anything of it,” Pepe told the newspaper. “We thought it was doing
maneuvers. We were watching the plane but didn't see the impact. We saw
it go down and there was a 'boom.' Then there was black smoke
everywhere.”

McDonnell said the state is
providing immediate resources and assistance on the ground and working
with Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms.

The same model of fighter
jet, an F/A-18D, crashed in December 2008 while returning to Marine
Corps Air Station Miramar after a training exercise in a San Diego
neighborhood. That crash killed four members of one family and destroyed
two homes.

The Marine Corps said the
jet suffered a mechanical failure, but a series of bad decisions led the
pilot – a student – to bypass a potentially safe landing at a coastal
Navy base after his engine failed. The pilot ejected and told
investigators he screamed in horror as he watched the jet plow into the
neighborhood, incinerating two homes. A federal judge ordered the U.S.
government to pay the family nearly $18 million in restitution.

Copyright
2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not
be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Categories: KUSI